DaeDaeWorld Weekend 2016 began with Family Fun Night on Sept. 23 with family fun and food –  roller-skating, face-painting, and pizza. The evening was both lively and informative, as volunteers, some of whom are pictured above, kept things running smoothly, and representatives of organizations that serve Evanston families were on hand to provide information. Food for the mind followed at the lit fest the following day, as kids chose books to keep and received books bags in which to carry them.

A seemingly endless supply of free new and like-new books for ages pre-K through high school and family fun for all ages were the hallmarks of DaeDaeWorld Weekend 2016. A strong sense of community, smiling faces, and a focus on literacy were in plentiful supply at the DaeDaeWorld Weekend Family Fun Night on Friday and Literacy Fest on Saturday. Sponsored by the Dajae Coleman Foundation, the events reflected Evanston at its best – with volunteers from the foundation and partner organizations joining hands to provide free safe, healthy, and educational weekend activities for Evanston families.

Family Fun Night was an evening of entertainment for all ages. The event took place at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center on Sept. 23 from 7 to 10 p.m. Roller skating, music, arts and crafts, face painting, pizza, and refreshments were available throughout the evening. Representatives from local organizations and programs serving Evanston families and youth were on hand from to provide information about their services.

The first DaeDae Reads Is Lit! Literacy Fest was a resounding success, drawing a steady flow of children and parents to the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center on Sept. 24. More than 700 new and like-new books were given to Evanston kids, teens, and parents. Free drawstring bags were provided to carry books home. Children were encouraged to fill the bags with as many books as they wanted. Kids and teens, many of them accompanied by their parents, thoughtfully selected their books, which were organized by age level. Snacks and refreshments were available at no cost.

In addition to free books, the Literacy Fest offered a half-day of book-centered activities. A Spoken Word Session featuring “Rebellious” was especially relevant to teens. Literature for All of Us conducted a writing workshop for youth, and pre-K and kindergarten kids enjoyed story time and crafting led by Evanston Public Library staff, were also on hand at Family Fun Night on Friday.

Authors Darryl Harvey, Evan Roberts, Cheryl Gist-Williams, and Bernard Turner, all members of the Chicago Black Authors Network, shared their insights and offered their self-published books, featuring stories and poems about people of color, for sale to local readers. The event concluded with a raffle to win copies of “Thirty Million Words; Building a Child’s Brain,” by Dr. Dana Suskind.

Books given away at the Literacy Fest were donated by the Center for Teaching Through Children’s Books, ETHS, Brown Baby Reads, Thirty Million Words Initiative at University of Chicago, Bookends & Beginnings, individual staff at Evanston Public Library, the Dajae Coleman Foundation and its board members, and dona- tions from the public collected in donation boxes throughout Evanston.

The Dajae Coleman Foundation’s director of Reading Initiatives, Jarrett Dapier, said, “We established the DaeDae Is Lit! Literacy Fest to help Evanston families begin to build, or add to, home libraries. Homes that are full of books are more likely to be homes that raise readers.

Mr. Dapier added, “We also wanted to create a positive, fun, and inspiring event that would bring kids, teens, and adults together to celebrate the joys of reading, storytelling, the spoken word, and books. I left with the largest smile and it still hasn’t faded.”

Tiffany Rice, founder of the Dajae Coleman Foundation, stood outside the Gibbs-Morrison Cultural Center greeting all who came her way and encouraging everyone, especially Evanston youth, to attend the Literacy Fest and take advantage of the book giveaway. The event was free, and open to the public.

The Dajae Coleman Foundation (dc3f.org) was founded in 2013 to honor the legacy of Ms. Rice’s son, Dajae Coleman, an exemplary young man who lost his life to gun violence at the age of 14 during his freshman year at ETHS. It is dc3f’s mission to uplift, encourage, empower, and reward Evanston youth.

Heidi Randhava is an award winning reporter who has a deep commitment to community engagement and service. She has written for the Evanston RoundTable since 2016.